You've decided you want to compete for the first time, or maybe you've competed a few times and are looking to improve your results. You’ve been training and you're ready for the challenge, but most of all, you're ready to 'go big'--to lift the heaviest weights you ever have, and to do so on the competition platform. There probably isn't a better feeling than setting three new PRs in competition. And after all, why compete if you aren't going to do just that? Go big or go home, right?
"Making big lifts in competition is a skill that must be learned and developed..."
Before we go further, we need to make one thing clear: lifting in competition and lifting in the gym are NOT the same thing. Making big lifts in competition is a skill that must be learned and developed, because lifting in competition exposes you to physical, mental, and emotional demands that aren't present during training. If you expect to meet or exceed your best-ever training lifts while you are learning to compete, you're ignoring all of those additional stressors and demands which will be present in competition, but weren't present when you made that big PR in training. Here's just a few examples of those stressors:
Physical: The rules of competition states that you must lift within the given minute on the clock, not when you feel most ready; there's a good chance you'll be lifting at different time of day from your normal training; you may have cut weight; you'll be in a singlet, not your normal training clothes; you may have had to travel for the competition, whether that's a flight, a long drive the day before, or a 90 minute drive the morning of; you may have not had a great sleep and/or feeling anxious leading up to the competition. These are typical stressors that may have a direct physiological effect on your performance if not managed properly.
"I paid for the deviation from my plan.... in my sole Olympic Games experience."
I recall a bodyweight cut experience of my own that had very negative effects. I was 22 years old, days out from competing at the 2000 Olympics. Leading up to the Games, I recalled how I had missed out on the bronze medal at the 1998 World Championships on bodyweight (I lifted the same weight as another lifter, but she took the medal because of her lighter bodyweight).
Without saying anything to my coaches, I decided to weigh in as light as possible so that I wouldn't lose a solid placing, or perhaps a chance at an Olympic medal due to bodyweight. Even though I was already well within my 75 kg maximum for my weight class, I essentially stopped eating and drinking a few days before the competition. At weigh-ins, I was just a bit over 72 kg, but I was lighted headed, off balance, and my hands and feet were tingling. My hands almost felt numb. I didn't feel the coordination, speed, or sense of balance I was used to. My opening snatch attempt was my personal best--and the American Record--of 102.5 kilos, but I missed my 1st and 2nd attempt. I remember feeling so slow. I made my 3rd attempt at that weight, thank goodness, but the clean and jerks were just as bad--I made only one attempt and therefore went 2/6 overall. I was trained to hit a 107 kg and 130 kg, but I paid for the deviation from my plan in my sole Olympic Games experience.
Mental/Emotional: There may be a number of mental and emotional considerations that all newer athletes will need to master such as: you may be lifting in unfamiliar surroundings and having to manage thoughts and feelings that may not be present in training; you will be watching others lifting around you in warm ups and on the competition platform, and it may cause you to question your warm up and meet prep routine; and you may feel the pressure of thinking that you MUST perform well- for your coach, your teammates, and your family and friends.
"focus... on the process instead of the outcome".
For several years early in my career, I felt pressure to make lifts and achieve a certain total in competition because my athlete stipend and health insurance was based on performance in competition. These stressors don't always go away, I just became more disciplined and proficient at managing them by focusing my attention on the process instead of the outcome. In short, I had to step up my mental game.
"Elite lifters... are elite for a reason- they make the hard things look easy".
Elite lifters make big lifts in competition- setting personal bests, winning competitions, breaking records. They are elite for a reason--they make the hard things look easy. And they make big competition lifts look easy because they've had a tremendous amount of competition practice and experience. Those elite lifters that we recently watched during the Olympic Team Trials have logged thousands of training repetitions, and have taken many, many more competition attempts than someone new to the sport.. This competition experience allows them to make lifts even while facing all of those unique stress demands because they've done it many times before. They know what they need to do to overcome or minimize the impact of those stressors, and they've developed the confidence to make lifts in competition. No athlete can or should expect to replicate their skill and ability without having that same foundation.
"...becoming a proficient competitor takes time".
You may be asking at this point: how do I build that foundation of competition experience? I'll talk about specific ways to do this in future posts, but first I have to emphasize patience: understand the long game and recognize that it's not just about that first competition. Just as learning proficiency in the lifts requires time, dedication, and practice, becoming a proficient competitor takes time. You might not be winning competitions or setting PRs in those first few meets, but if you spend the time developing your competition experience and ability to lift under those uniquely stressful conditions, you'll be prepared to make those big lifts in competitions down the road. #CHFP #weightlifting #ApproachingTheBar